Sharp Thinking - Asian Cooking Knives
This entry was posted on October 26, 2010.
The knife is one of mankind's oldest and simplest tools. But as old as the concept is, it's still one of the most important items in your kitchen. And as cooking has advanced, many different knives have been developed, with many different purposes. The vast number of knives and knife-types can be overwhelming, and it can be easy to get lost in all the choices. But that's what we're here for! We'll walk you through what some of these unique knives are, and what they can do. Let's start with the basics: Different types of knives.
Santoku: A santoku is generally a medium sized blade, somewhere between 5 and 8 inches in length. The santoku is meant to be a general, multi-purpose kind of knife. The blade is fairly flat and meant to slice or cut just about anything, except for bone. It's not really meant for piercing, as its point is somewhat dull, and the curve toward the end makes piercing difficult. But the knife is a little bit taller, so you can press down on whatever you are cutting through, making it a great knife for slicing, dicing, or mincing.
Chef's Knife: The Chef's knife is the other multi-purpose knife. This is the cliche knife you'll see in most slasherflicks, and it is usually between 6 and 9 inches in length. The point is sharper than a santoku, allowing for better piercing, and the blade is curved a little bit more, which will let you "rock" the blade back and forth across whatever you are cutting. The length allows it to be dragged across what you're cutting, which makes for nice, clean slices.
Paring Knife: A paring blade is short, somewhere between 3 and 5 inches in length. These knives are very sharp, and are designed small to do very careful and precise work. These aren't so much for dicing and chopping as they are for odd jobs that bulky chef's knives can't do, like preparing small pieces of meat, or peeling fruits, or cutting items into a particular shape.
Cleaver: A cleaver is meant to make broad, clean cuts through large items, such as chunks of meat, or oversized vegetables. The blade is heavy, very tall, and somewhat thin, so it shouldn't be used on bones. There is also a curve in the blade, which will let you rock it across your food.
Chopper: A chopper is the cleaver's big brother. It has a thicker, heavier blade, which allows it to chop through heavier materials, including some animal bones. Most choppers also have a point on the tip, to allow for some piercing, though not nearly as much as a Chef's blade. These are the heavy duty knives that get the call when other knives simply can't cut it.
Boning Knife: A boning knife is designed to be long and thin, generally between 5 and 7 inches in length. It's made to pick out and remove the animal bones from meat. Having the thin blade makes for easier bone removal, especially when bones are difficult to reach, or within deep cuts.
Nakiri & Usui Knife: These knives look like little stylized cleavers, except they have a rounded tip, and are about half as tall. They have a medium weight, somewhere between a cleaver and a santoku, and are designed to chop vegetables. The style originated near Tokyo, and they are popular all over Japan. They're usually medium to long blades, with lengths that stay between 6 and 8 inches long.
Bread Knife: the bread knife is pretty self-explanatory, it's meant to cut bread. But what enables the bread knife to be uniquely suited for this job is its extra long, thin blade, and its serrated cutting edge. Some types of bread have very thick crusts, or have exteriors that are glazed in a way that a santoku or a chef's knife couldn't slice through.
Yanagi: The yanagi blade is designed to be very long, usually about 7 to 10 inches in length. They have a super sharp tip meant for deep piercing, and are extremely thin. These knives are designed for cutting and filleting various size fish, as well as for making sushi. They have long blades because some fish are too thick for most knives to fillet them in one clean cut. Its length also enables it to be dragged back across the fish, which is the Japanese style of slicing fish.
Stainless Steel Blades: Stainless steel is designed to resist rust and general corrosion. Most can be put in the dishwasher, however some people would recommend not doing this as being tossed around in the dishwasher may cause some damage to come to the blade. And even though stainless still resists rust, it is recommended not to leave them in water or detergent for extended periods of time. Stainless steel will need sharpening after several uses, just to keep the edge fine. The majority of modern knives today are made of stainless steel, as they're fairly light, resist decay, and are very easy to care for.
Iron Blades: Iron is stronger and more durable than steel. Because of this, the blade will resist damage more than steel knives, and the blade will keep its sharp edge longer. However, iron is more susceptible to rust and corrosion than stainless steel, which means that the blades cannot be washed in the dishwasher, and that the blades must be hand washed and dried after use. Iron is generally heavier, and if you plan on cutting through very thick surfaces, an iron blade will be recommended as it will resist damage better than steel.
Now that you know the basics of knives, you're ready to test out those skills. Experiment with different blades, both steel and iron to see which you prefer, and soon you'll be ready to show off your own collection of Asian Cooking Knives.